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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, January 31, 2011

PBS: Tax Justice

Watch the full episode. See more Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

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Tax justice? Sure. They tax everything else.

Posted by: Don Surber | Jan 31, 2011 1:35:22 PM

Specifics, specifics, specifics!

The law should not seek an absolute equality, but it should seek harmony (based on the notion of equality (ison) in greek mathematics, which includes dimensions of harmony, and of what is just (close to the value of beautiful). It is in this sense that redistribution to achieve equality should be understood. For example, taxes are proportional to wealth or lifestyles, and they are not equal sums to be paid by all. To take Finnis’ example in relation to redistribution to achieve equality: is it a requirement of justice to make the richman pay taxes, and therefore be less able to drink fine wine, so that the poor can drink more beer while watching television, or is it not better to make the richman pay taxes, and hence drink less fine wine, so that the poor can access health care and education, and be in a position to make genuine choices for himself? Or to take Fuller’s more incisive view:
“The necessary distinction is not taken, but on the contrary, obfuscated when it is suggested that because the law keeps the mob out of the rich man’s mansion it is justified in equalizing income”
Taxation is a way of redistributing goods, but it should be done with the purpose to achieve the common good (or equality in the Greek sense of harmony), and not purely equalisation. The needs of individuals must be cared for. However these needs are relative to the roles of responsibilities of individuals in a society. The capacity of individuals should also be take into account, for example third level education should be made available only to those who can benefit from it.Fuller’s contribution to this Greek vision of society is that the correct institutions, properly staffed and functioning according to sound principles and rules, can define these higher principles of distributive justice, and put them into practice in order to allow the “allocation of economic resources”. Fuller’s reasoning is that government intervention is necessary to implement principles of distributive justice, but that it also needs to be controlled to ensure that it is working towards the freedom and well-being of individuals, and ultimately the common good of society. This control is done by way of mechanisms and procedures:
“The important truth [is] that you cannot intelligently discuss economic freedom in isolation from the specific mechanisms or procedures by which that freedom is determined, or, as I should prefer to say, by which freedom to choose is allocated and conflicting choices are reciprocally adjusted” (Lon L Fuller, “Some reflections on legal and economic freedoms – A review of Robert L Hale’s “Freedom through law”, (1954) 54(1) Columbia Law Review 70, at 80).

Posted by: Benedicte Sage | Feb 1, 2011 1:10:44 AM